Dubbed the terrestrial Ha Long Bay, Ninh Binh (pronounced Ning Bing) is truly a magical avatar escape, full of towering limestone mountains, expansive caves and secret riverways. All of this awesome is located only two hours away from Vietnam’s capital of Hanoi. This sleepy little town is full of rice paddies, water buffaloes and some of the most stunning views you’ve ever seen. A trip to Ninh Binh is an absolute must if you are visiting Hanoi!

Getting to Ninh Binh:

Getting to this little rural paradise is actually quite easy. From Hanoi there is a train (Ga Hanoi) that departs every day, it takes about two hours, has A/C, chargers for your phone and is only about 10 USD!  When you arrive you can book your ticket back. Easy peasy. If you are tight on time, you can book a taxi from Hanoi to Ninh Binh it will be about 45 USD. 

What to do:

For being a provincial town there is actually loads of things to do that are packed with adventure and history. Here are my top picks for your weekend escape:

Trang An Boat Tour:

This little boat tour is quite impressive! You will paddle through caves, and float through some of the most breathtaking mountain scenes. For about eight USD you get around three hours of blissful exploration. You will stop off at a number of different pagodas and temples only accessible by boat!

TIP: Bring a little snack if you are prone to getting hangry, there are few options for food along the way, and as it did for us – three hours began to feel very long without a snack.

Wondering where to eat in Hanoi? See my list of 7 restaurants you must visit!

Bich Dong Pagoda:

This pagoda is a great one to visit if you are short on time. There is no hike or boat required through the pagoda does go up the mountain so it’s up to you if you would like to explore it otherwise, just bike up to where it is and walk in! Its striking archway at the front is what draws many visitors along with the pond it sits on, which in the summer explodes in pink lotus flowers.

TIP: Make sure to cover your knees and shoulders as this is a religious site. 

Bich Dong Pagoda

Mua Caves Hike:

Fancy a bit of exercise? This hike up to the top of the Mua caves is sure to get your blood pumping. Around 400 stairs will take you to the BEST view of Ninh Binh there is! Photos don’t do it justice, you will have to experience it for yourself. There also are some caves there but they are far less popular – the hike and view take the cake!

Mua Caves

Heading to Hanoi? Check out my ultimate guide to the city here!

Hoa Lu:

Immerse yourself in history with a visit to Vietnam’s ancient capital of Hoa Lu. 1,000 years ago there were many different structures which made up this city but now there are only two. Located only 20 minutes from Ninh Binh visiting this ancient city is well worth the trip!

Hoa Lu

Van Long Nature Reserve:

Around 30 minutes away from the Trang An/Tam Coc area is the peaceful oasis of the Van Long Nature Reserve. Home to many feathered friends, this is a spot which is exceptionally popular with bird watchers. Go on a boat tour here for a glimpse of the exceptionally remote waterways and caves.

Van Long Wetlands

TIP: Checkout Chookies Garden Bar for the best western food in Ninh Binh!

Where to stay: 

In Ninh Binh you have two options when it comes to booking accommodation: a homestay or hotel/resort. 

Immerse yourself in the local culture at one of these homestays. 

Sierra Homestay: Sierra has a great view of the mountains and is located in excellent proximity to the Trang An attractions. The rooms are large and comfortable and the family who runs it are great. TIP – make sure to book a traditional breakfast of Banh Cuon the night before. It is a Ninh Binh specialty!

Chez Beo: This rustic experience is a must for adventurous travelers. Small bamboo houses line the small streams and lush mountains of its remote location. Perfect for anyone trying to connect with nature!

Other places you can’t go wrong at are Nguyen Shack or Trang An Bungalow

If you are searching for a luxury experience, look no further than the Emeralda Resort and Spa. This resort is a must if you are wanting a total retreat in the Ninh Binh area. Located around 30 minutes from the town the Emeralda Resort grounds are full of beautiful villas, outdoor and indoor pools, two restaurants, a spa and even a wine bar!

Each section of the resort has a cluster of villas which are completely surrounded by greenery. In the middle of your cluster of rooms is a private swimming pool just for you and the few surrounding villas to use. There is also a much larger pool located closer to the gym and restaurant.

The villas are beautiful, with high ceilings and a rustic luxury feel. The pretty terracotta tile floors and the super big bed will make it difficult to even leave the room!  The charming ancient architecture which could be found throughout the resort adds to the magic.

These expansive grounds which make up the resort are set against the lush limestone karsts of the Van Long Nature Reserve, which is only a few minutes down the road. Book a boat tour there and explore the remote waterways with your guide.

While on the resort you will definitely want to try the breakfast at Sen which had loads of delicious local favorites like banh cuon or pho. The food at their other restaurant – Organics which serves lunch and dinner – though a bit pricey, is good and selection of wines is impressive.

The Emeralda Resort is definitely the most luxurious resort in Ninh Binh and is perfect for a complete escape from city life! To book – click here.

TIP: rent a bike to ride around the resort at dusk – all of the walkways are lit up with sparkling lights!

Headed to Hanoi or Ha Long Bay after your trip to Ninh Binh? Check out my guides for the cities here!

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